Susan Riley | October 2013

Don’t take my art supplies! How to gather materials for Arts Integration lessons

I love Arts teachers.  All of them.

Each Arts teacher has a unique fingerprint of creativity that they bring to their students, their teaching and the world.  And they do it all with less.  Less time, less money, and less resources than everyone else in the school (typically).  They are true rock stars for our kids.

And so I understand why many art teachers are protective of their supplies.  Please keep in mind, too, that this isn’t just relegated to the visual art teachers.  Music teachers, dance, drama and media arts specialists are all very careful about the resources, materials, and instruments being used outside of their classrooms.  This only makes sense: we wouldn’t ask doctors to share their instruments with dentists after a surgery.  It’s not fair, therefore, to just assume that the art teacher should provide everyone in the school with glue bottles, construction paper, or “just a little” paint.  Nor is it okay to assume that the music teacher’s classroom instruments are fair game for a music integration lesson in a social studies classroom.

This is not to say that Arts teachers don’t love to share: they DO.  They want to be a vital part of the creative heartbeat of a school.  But they need those materials and resources (in the limited amounts provided to them) to be used to teach students the intricacies and value of their own craft.  Students need to be able to use the materials and instruments to practice their art as a way to deepen their schema of learning the arts themselves.  When we take these things away from our wonderful Arts teachers, we are then taking away a chance for our students to have a purely artistic experience which could then be applied critically in an integrated lesson.

As a result, our Arts teachers have had to get tough.  They have had to put their foot down and say that classroom teachers cannot “borrow” paint or cannot just take a few instruments for an upcoming lesson.  To classroom teachers, this feels like the Arts teacher isn’t being cooperative, but that is just not it.  Arts teachers are simply advocating for the resources that they have fought so hard for in the first place.

So what can you do?  How can you provide an Arts Integration lesson when going to the Arts teachers are out of the question?

1. Have a dedicated Arts Integration Cart or Closet.  This has worked wonders for me in any building I have worked with.  Set aside a certain amount of money – $1,000/$2,000 is a good range to start – and then order supplies just for that cart.  You can order art supplies, musical instruments, an iPod dock, and even a few iPads for digital design.  Then, as you and your colleagues plan for integrated lessons, you can check out the cart to use with your students.  Be sure to keep an inventory of what you used, as well as a copy of the lesson plan, so that you can document where the materials are going.  This will help in the ordering process next year.  Want some great ideas for what to include in your cart?  Check out our Arts Integration Cart Pinterest board to get started.

2. Try crowdsourcing or PTAs for the materials you need.  Create a list of supplies that you would like to have dedicated for Arts Integration in your classroom.  Don’t forget to include storage and organization for these supplies!  Once you have your list, price it out via online ordering sites (Blick Art Supplies, Sax Art Supplies, and West Music are great places to start) and come up with a total.  Present your budget and a brief statement of why you need these materials to your PTA or use them to create a pitch on a crowdsourcing site like to let others help fund your initiative.

3. Don’t forget about recycling!  Have a dedicated AI Supplies box outside of your classroom where teachers or parents can drop off odds and ends that they don’t need anymore.  You’d be amazed at how many pieces of construction paper, scissors, markers, paints, and old instruments that will wind up with you just by that one box.

4. Preparation is key.  Often, being able to gather arts supplies or resources from the Arts teachers doesn’t have to be a chore – you just need to use what you learned in kindergarten.  Ask nicely and give them plenty of notice.  It’s hard to feel generous when a teacher comes into your arts classroom saying they need the materials for this afternoon’s lesson.  If you prepare your lesson in collaboration with others, be sure to connect with the Arts teacher you are linking to when you create your lesson.  They may be able to budget and set aside something that you need.  Be prepared too, for if they can’t offer you the items you need and try tips 1-3, but thank them for their willingness to try.  Next time, you might just be able to work something out with them.

Have you been successful in gathering materials for your arts classes? What stumbling blocks have you run across in getting these resources?

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan